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Real Taste of India lives up to its name

Real Taste of India opened quietly in November 2019 at 35 N. Central Ave. in downtown Medford, and since then has grown a loyal following. Last week, the grand opening celebration drew hundreds of hungry fans ready to enjoy a sampling of the many regional cuisines of India.

Sakin Ram is Real Taste of India’s master of sauces, the finely spiced, velvety liquids that surround and complement any protein on the menu — chicken, lamb, tofu, goat, pulses and seafood, too. The restaurant offers a daily lunch buffet at $11.99, and customers can order off the regular menu at any time. The buffet changes daily and will carry four or five vegetarian specialties and an equal number of meat dishes, along with two sweet choices.

Ram is chef at Real Taste of India, continuing a family tradition of feeding the community started by his father many years ago in Pehowa, a city in the northern India state of Haryana. Two years ago, Ram’s son, Pundir Haryanvi, moved to the United States to work with his father and to make sure that the family recipes live on for the next generation. This is Chef Ram’s second restaurant; he also prepares food at A Taste of India in Grants Pass.

“My family has been making food for the people in India for many, many years; my granddad started this years ago, and my dad is the only one in my family to follow my grandfather and learn cooking,” explained Haryanvi. “My dad wanted to keep my granddad’s recipes alive, and because I’m the oldest, now I am here learning.”

Lunchtime at Real Taste of India is redolent with the fragrance of chilies, cumin, fenugreek and coriander; the scents together with the vibrant colors of the foods form a splendid symphony. Bollywood films play on the big-screen televisions, no sound needed to understand the drama of tall heroic men with mustaches, short and thick-bodied villains and sari-draped beauties. All the while, sitars and percussions sound the strains of the subcontinent.

The lunch buffet changes out daily, and that day’s selection included goat biryani, vindaloo chicken, chicken tikka masala, chicken tawa masala, as well as the bright red tandoori chicken. Rounding out the buffet was a mixed vegetable curry, paneer, korma and mushroom matar. A buffet is a delight for those who love to graze and try different flavors.

And of course, I tasted them all and wiped my plate with freshly made naan, delivered hot and crisp-tender to the table.

The rice in the goat biryani was just right — each long-grained morsel was tender, fluffing separately and infused with a meaty taste and flavored with ginger, onion and garlic. The chicken tawa masala had tender chunks of meat, bathed in a velvety sauce with tomato, garam masala, fenugreek and chilies. If the ratio of meat to sauce was a little light on meat, it might have been time of day. And perhaps my favorites of the day were two of the vegetarian dishes: paneer kadai, with housemade paneer and coconut milk, cream, peas, carrots and string beans; and korma navratan, another mildly spiced dish of ground nuts and cream, earthy cumin and lemony coriander. Fresh flavored chutneys, pickles, raita and tamarind are readily available.

Real Taste of India can make any dish vegan, gluten-free or vegetarian on request.

For dessert? Three tender, syrup-soaked globes of gulab jamun, and after that, I couldn’t fit another bite.

Oddly enough, there were no lentils or beans in that day’s buffet, no dahl, no chickpeas or kidney beans in any of the dishes, but that’s just another reason to return to Real Taste of India. The buffet did have a selection of pakora, vegetables deep-fried with a chickpea batter, that wasn’t exactly to my taste. Some of the pakora made with a potato, pea and besan filling were so large that the pieces weren’t cooked through, and other pieces were fried too crispy to eat easily. Smaller batches of pakora that refill the buffet more frequently might be more easily managed in the kitchen and still be hot at serving.

All in all, Real Taste of India is a fine addition to Southern Oregon’s options for international cuisine, and with its central downtown location, it’s sure to be a regular stop for many. In fact, 4-year-old Azalea stopped in that day for lunch with her mother, Ali. Ali says that her daughter’s go-to restaurant is Real Taste of India, and her favorite dish is veggie korma.

Real Taste of India is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with a daily lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The liquor license will be in place before long, but until then, there’s lassi on the menu and also coffee and tea at no additional charge. Real Taste of India has an event space and a bar, and will also cater off-site events. Call 458-225-9672 for takeout orders or phone UberEats, GrubHub or DoorDash to order for delivery.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Tandoori chicken, vegetable pakora with chutneys and salad at Real Taste of India in Medford.{ }Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella